Live Review: Stockton Calling Festival – Multi Venue, Stockton 31.03.2024

Craig Young

There is not much going on in Stockton these days, but the one thing that they have always been good at, is spotting up and coming musical talent. A highlight of all this talent spotting culminate into what is very much a stable of the North East music scene, Stockton Calling.

This years line up was another impressive range culminating in the Zutons and The Bluetones headlining with local favourites Scruffy Bear, Weathership, Church Honey, Courtney Dixon, Wingz Of The monkey and Komparrison amongst others filling the rest of the lineup.

Starting off in one of Stockton’s newer venues, Sticky’s, for the one man soulful indie wonder that is Ben James Miller also known as Church Honey. With a simple set up of guitar and drums it was far to early in the day to have my heart broken but the emotive power that this guy can transmit verges on dangerous. Particularly in the soul bearing track ‘I’m Not Ok’. His set contained a surprise guest who he had written a duet for without actually meeting. Bringing Maria Josephina, who had opened the Link stage, up to sing alongside was a gorgeous way to start my festival experience.

A quick walk to the Link, another newish venue that is attached to the Globe Theatre to catch one of Backseat Mafia’s favorite Melanie Baker who is something to behold live. Backed by her band her brand of grunge indie topped by that gorgeous voice of hers, she delighted the crowd that had shown up. To see Baker with her new sound was a big highlight of the day.

After the indie masterclass it was time to pick things up with Scruffy Bear at one of oldest theatres in the country, the Georgian Theatre. I was blown away seeing these guys in the Link last year and was looking forward to seeing them on the bigger stage. The impact from their music was ten fold. With a prowling rock Queen in singer Georgie and the power rock trio behind her they were an unstoppable force very much comfortable with the bigger stage and audience.

Must admit I only wondered down to NE Volume to see Polyvinyl purely because of their name but it quickly turned into one of the better ideas of the day as this young punk band absolutely ripped through a cracking set. With a captivating lead singer in Hannah Telford, the bands electrically charged mixture of indie-rock-post punk was a huge hit. Telford’s ability to go from frantic punk to indie to even a spot of Doo-wop was a joy to witness.

Talking of indie the next band I caught was Liverpool’s Reignmaker whose sound was well suited to the bigger Arc 2 stage. And what a sound this band has. Glorious driven choruses, jangly guitars and a loud and proud scouse swagger that brought sunshine to the weekend that the crowd lapped up.

After that the Funkadelic synth heavy Moonwax were up next band in Sticky’s with a full house dancing along to the soulful music and tasty guitar work. There was smiles galore from both band and audience as both synced in the fantastic addictive joyful groove provided by the band. A particular nod to the drummer who delivered a perfectly fitting over the top percussive treat.

Hanging about Sticky’s as the next band is a particular favorite and one I have witnessed several times. Venus Grrrls have come on some major surge of love recently after releasing some quality goth punk singles. A slight change in the line up has not affected the magic and being led by the bewitching brilliance of singer GK, who gave a powerful performance, they had no trouble winning over the audience.

The headline band I chose to finish my day off was the frankly brilliant, Dead Letter, who delivered a passionate performance led by their bare chested front man Zac Lawrence. They had the audience in the palm of their hands and blew the sweaty roof off the Arc 2 stage. With powerful working class vibe to their songs, perfect for the North East, the crowd were whipped into a frenzy as the lead singer prowled and goaded them into even higher frenzy.

Final act of the day could be found in NE Volume with the duo Getdown Services. A two piece from Bristol that are part stag do on a karaoke machine part pound shop LCD Soundsystem. A bare chested hilarious lyrical party band that had the crowd singing to their version of Robbie Williams Angel all topped by some immaculate guitar work. They were the perfect afterparty band to end the day.

Another successful day of music where no doubt many of those there found new bands and reaffirmed their love for their favourites. One thing Stockton Calling does well is introduce many a newer act to new fans. Polyvinyl being one for me, after their impressive set. Moonwax delivered a musical masterpiece as Melanie Baker brought beautiful indie with a gritty bite before Scruffy Bear blew the cobwebs away with their lung blasting rock guitar set.

Covering 10 stages with each coping with a different band/music style, the organizers had got it right for majority of the artists. It was only a select few of the newer bands begging for a bigger stage was their any argument of getting it wrong. But we all have to start somewhere. With a dark cloud hanging over the survival of smaller venues and the grass roots music scene, it’s festivals like this that the music loving paying public can witness brand new talent and where the next big band learn the ropes and spread the word. Long may they continue

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